Review: “The Falls,” Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Pros: Fascinating mystery; interesting characters; stands alone well
Cons: A bit slow and slightly ponderous in places
Rating: 4 out of 5

The Falls: A Diving Universe Novel (Diving Series) (Volume 5) is something I picked up in a storybundle, so I hadn’t read any of the previous four books in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s series. Despite that, this book stood completely on its own, a rarity with today’s long and highly complicated series. So if you aren’t familiar with her books, this is a fine introduction.

The Fleet ship Ijo is settled on-planet for repairs, her captain and crew largely on vacation. A tech is working on a drive that needs repairing when the smaller ship the drive fits into vanishes. Given how dangerous these fold-space drives can be–particularly when not functioning well–this is a highly alarming incident. Everyone from the specialized technician to the very captain of the Ijo itself is on the hunt for the missing ship and the thief who took it. Meanwhile, planetary authorities find a body in a dangerous pool near a massive waterfall, along with two pairs of discarded shoes. They think they know who the body belongs to even though the face is difficult to recognize, and that woman and her wife are both missing. The authorities discover a death scene with lots of blood and no body, but they haven’t yet been able to examine the pool closely enough to know whether there’s another body or not. Both the base authorities and the civilian planetary authorities end up working from different directions to find the same missing woman, and they’re about to uncover some nasty skeletons in her closet.

Things are a little slow in places, particularly at the beginning before the reader gets invested in the characters and story. Rusch seems to linger on each individual emotion expressed by characters to a ponderous extent at times. As I grew to care about what was happening I saw less of this, but I don’t know if that’s because the writing settled into rhythm or I just got pulled in enough that I didn’t notice it any more. The mystery is interesting: how many bodies are there? Who’s the killer(s)? What happened to that missing ship? Will justice be served? While many of the characters weren’t made to be particularly likable, they were made sympathetic enough that they also weren’t particularly unlikable.

The setting is interesting. The Fleet originated on Earth (or so the legends say) and as it moves on throughout the universe it keeps several bases going at which it can enact repairs. As it moves on it closes down old bases and opens new ones. This is a slow and gradual process, though, resulting in generations of people living on planets who don’t necessarily even know much about the Fleet or how it works. Sandoveil, the city in which much of this story takes place, largely supports the hidden repair base nearby. It’s known as a dangerous area, but only because the natural wonders–mud flats, mountains, and falls–are dangerous places that claim the lives of careless tourists at a notable rate. It’s an almost innocent area, with little theft or crime of other sorts, until the events of the story cast everything in a new light. A lot of people’s lives are about to change.

I thought the ending was a little bit anti-climactic. That said, it was clever enough that I didn’t particularly mind.

I definitely enjoyed Ms. Rusch’s novel. I’ve read some of her short stories in anthologies before and been impressed with her work, but this is the first novel by her that I’ve read. Certainly after reading The Falls, I’d be happy to read more.

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